The accounting entry for depreciation

The accounting for depreciation requires an ongoing series of entries to charge a fixed asset to expense, and eventually to derecognize it. These entries are designed to reflect the ongoing usage of fixed assets over time.

Depreciation is the gradual charging to expense of an asset's cost over its expected useful life. The reason for using depreciation to gradually reduce the recorded cost of a fixed asset is to recognize a portion of the asset's expense at the same time that the company records the revenue that was generated by the fixed asset. Thus, if you charged the cost of an entire fixed asset to expense in a single accounting period, but it kept generating revenues for years into the future, this would be an improper accounting transaction under the matching principle, because revenues are not being matched with related expenses.

In reality, revenues cannot always be directly associated with a specific fixed asset. Instead, they can more easily be associated with an entire system of production or group of assets.

The journal entry for depreciation can be a simple entry designed to accommodate all types of fixed assets, or it may be subdivided into separate entries for each type of fixed asset.

The basic journal entry for depreciation is to debit the Depreciation Expense account (which appears in the income statement) and credit the Accumulated Depreciation account (which appears in the balance sheet as a contra account that reduces the amount of fixed assets). Over time, the accumulated depreciation balance will continue to increase as more depreciation is added to it, until such time as it equals the original cost of the asset. At that time, you stop recording any depreciation expense, since the cost of the asset has now been reduced to zero.

For example, ABC Company calculates that it should have $25,000 of depreciation expense in the current month. The entry is:

   Debit Credit
 Depreciation expense  25,000  
      Accumulated depreciation   25,000

In the following month, ABC's controller decides to show a higher level of precision at the expense account level, and instead elects to apportion the $25,000 of depreciation among different expense accounts, so that each class of asset has a separate depreciation charge. The entry is:

   Debit Credit
 Depreciation expense - Automobiles  4,000  
 Depreciation expense - Computer equipment  8,000  
 Depreciation expense - Furniture & fixtures  6,000  
 Depreciation expense - Office equipment  5,000  
 Depreciation expense - Software  2,000  
      Accumulated depreciation   25,000

Depreciation is considered an expense, but unlike most expenses, there is no related cash outflow. This is because a company has a net cash outflow in the entire amount of the asset when the asset was originally purchased, so there is no further cash-related activity. The one exception is a capital lease, where the company records it as an asset when acquired, but pays for the asset over time, under the terms of the associated lease agreement.

Finally, depreciation is not intended to reduce the cost of a fixed asset to its market value. Market value may be substantially different, and may even increase over time. Instead, depreciation is merely intended to gradually charge the cost of a fixed asset to expense over its useful life.

Depreciation and a number of other accounting tasks make it inefficient for the accounting department to properly track and account for fixed assets. They reduce this labor by using a capitalization limit to restrict the number of expenditures that are classified as fixed assets. Any expenditure for which the cost is equal to or more than the capitalization limit, and which has a useful life spanning more than one accounting period (usually at least a year) is classified as a fixed asset, and is then depreciated.